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Early American Door Knockers
"THE LATCHSTRING IS OUT,- is now only a figure of speech, a symbol of hospitality. But the door with a latchstring was a commonplace in early America and continued as part of log-cabin equipment as our forefathers pioneered westward and established new settlements. Then the latchstring was a leather thong attached to a wooden bar on the inside of the door. When passed through a hole to the outside, it served as a latch when pulled. Therefore, a latchstring on the outside was a tacit invitation for the visitor to pull it and enter. When the latchstring was pulled in, the reverse held, of course.
As conditions improved and suitable houses appeared in rapidly growing settlements and towns, social usages became slightly less casual and iron latches and knockers began to adorn the doors of American homes. The village black smith who made all the hardware for building and furnishing a house produced latches and knockers too. The earliest type was a ring-shaped device which served the triple purpose of knocker, door-handle, and latch since its pivot released the inside catch. By the early years of the eighteenth century, the separate door handle with latch came into being and the knocker took the place it now has.
Brass later became the favored material, but before the Revolution practically all American-made knockers were of iron, since brass founding was not encouraged in the colonies. Like other brasses, most American-owned knockers were made by the founders of Birmingham, England. These early ones were of the S-shape type. Easy to grasp, resounding and deep in tone, they were popular all through the eighteenth century. They are still a favored design in modern reproductions.
The urn knocker was a fitting ornament for the main door of a fine house in the 1750's. Usually more ornate than the simple example, reflected the elegance and dignity of the Chippendale period as well as the prosperity of the American colonies. Handsome ones were made of cast iron as well as of brass. The hand-wrought door knocker had been superseded by those cast in sand molds from models made by wood carvers. This made fanciful design and intricate decoration possible.
Brass knockers were frequently engraved with scrolls and other devices. The owner's initials or his name might also be added .Another style produced was the engraved and enameled in block letters which the wayfarer must have been able to see at some distance. Probably made during the first quarter of the nineteenth century, it is a good example of the eagle knocker that was especially popular during the early years of the young Republic. The urn knocker has the owner's monogram in script letters on the center medallion. The date, 1801, appears in an oval on the center of the bail. Both knockers are American-made and indicate the increase in brass founding in this country which began with the close of the American Revolution.